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Story of a foot soldier of Gujarat riots coming from a vulnerable community, Chharas

By Rajiv Shah
He is one of the more prominent "foot soldiers" of the 2002 Gujarat riots. Suresh Jadeja, alias Langdo, alias Richard, is indeed a well-known name in the Naroda Patiya massacre case, in which 97 persons were killed on February 28, 2002, the first day of the riots that shook the nation. Ordinarily, such a person should have been subjected to sociological scrutiny. What have here is a keen journalistic account, with clear political-ideological overtone.
Indeed, convicted for life on August 31, 2012 for murder and rape, little, however, is known about this rioter’s vulnerable background. Apart from participating in the  murder of Majid’s nine-member family, he was reportedly part of a group consisting of Babu Bajrangi, Jai Bhawani and Guddu Chhara that killed Kausar Bi. They had “surrounded her, murdered her, ripped out the foetus within her with a sword and killed up”, to quote Revati Laul’s new book, “The Anatomy of Hate”.
Suresh particularly acquired notoriety after his name sprang up in a sting operation, carried out by “Tehelka” magazine’s Ashish Khetan, before whom he spilled beans on how he was involved in murder and rape, as also BJP leader Maya Kodnani’s alleged involvement in the riot.
However, what is not known about Suresh is this: Coming from Chharanagar, which houses members of the Chhara community, Laul gives an extensive picture of Suresh as a person who “grew up in the 1970s in a neighbourhood of professional criminals – thieves, smugglers and gamblers – men and women alike”, adding, “They owed their notoriety to a law put in place in 1871 by the British.” Following the 1857 Great Revolt, Chharas, a nomadic tribe, were labeled as a criminal tribe, people who were “addicted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offences.”
Continues Laul, “All 150,000 Chharas were stuffed into internment camps, with a daily roll call and head count. Robbed of their traditional livelihood, the Chharas found that the only way they could live was as outlaws.” Labeled the son of a thief even in 1970s, Suresh contracted polio, which gave him his “middle name”, Langdo, the limper. “There was no getting away from it. His leg preceded him wherever he went – a visible, physical sign of failure. That’s home his father Kanti Lal described it anyway… ‘a one-legged limper. Good for nothing’.”
Oldest of five children, expelled from school for hitting a teacher in the head with a stone, Suresh “eventually” took on the “family trade of thieving”, says Laul, pointing to how he tried to replace the moniker Langdo with something positive. Crazy about cricket, he fashioned himself as the kids’ hero, identifying himself with one of the best West Indies players, Vivian Richard. That’s how, she adds, Suresh “gradually took on the last name, Richard…”
According to Laul, “Over time, the police file on him put him down as Suresh ‘Langdo’ and Suresh Richard in equal measure… Over time, fewer and fewer people linked him with his father’s name, Suresh Kantilal Jadeja. Over time, Suresh found his way out of the fractured family through violence.” Found molesting a girl, whom he and a friend dragged into a by-lane, whisking her away to the back to a workshop, on hearing the complaint about it, his father, Kantilal, apologizing profusely, declared, “I don’t know who that wife of mine has slept with to produce this bastard…”
Meanwhile, Laul says, the poorer part of Chharanagar, called Chhota Chharanagar, became the “the perfect swamp for animosity to fester”, as the “country was experiencing a new wave of Hindu evangelism in the 1990s.” She adds, “It was in this part of Ahmedabad city, which the law and justice systems had long ignored, that the most testosterone-driven, sabre-rattling arm of the Hindu right – Bajrang Dal – decided to proselytize. People with saffron brands and sharp three-pronged tridents had begun to organize weekend camps close to Chharanagar, and these were eventually attended by Suresh and many like him.”
Pointing out how the anti-Babri Masjid campaign influenced Suresh, Laul says, he didn’t go to Ayodhya like many others from Gujarat, but he was “caught up in the tidal wave of Hindu envangelism that went with it and all the accompanying propaganda against Muslims…” Those who knew him found in him “a distinct difference in behaviour. Before the demolition, he hung out quite unselfconsciously with his Muslim friends”, with his influence extending from Chharanagar to a “few friends” in the Naroda Patiya ghetto, where also Muslims lived “outside the pale of law.”
It was in the midst of this “zealous indoctrination”, says Laul, Suresh discovered to his “horror that his sister had eloped with a Muslim man”, changing her name from Sita to Shamim. “The humiliation Suresh felt was more than he could handle, declaring to “all and sundry” that “they have taken one of mine, I will take one of theirs”, setting himself a task to appease his rage: finding a Muslim wife, making him stalk a teenage girl, Farzana. “Muscular and charming”, notes Laul, “Suresh made sure Farzana saw this side of him.”
According to Laul, Farzana was living in a movie, with Suresh adding “filminess” by declaring to her, “I love you. I love your eyes, They are just like Hema Malini’s”. Wonders Laul, “Was he merely acting according to plan, or was he also, despite himself and his cold resolve, falling in love? Either way, it was clear by now that Farzana had more or less made up her mind.”
As Farzana ran away with Suresh, police looked for him for kidnapping her. Three months later, he returned, armed with marriage papers stamped by a local court. With this began their complicated relationship. While he would tell her that she loved her, she would also beat her up off and on, something that continued till he was sentenced for life in 2012. If after the marriage, the love Farzana had for Suresh had already “slowly” began to die, in 2009, she declared before the Chhara community panchayat, whom she approached for justice, “It’s finished. Khallas ho gaya ab. It’s all over.” She even approached the court, applying for divorce.
At one point, when Suresh was in jail and Farzana was desperate, as she had to look after her two children – Richie and Vivian (named after Suresh’s cricketing idol, Vivian Richard) – she even tried her hand with joining a group of women thieves from Chharanagar, as washing clothes and cleaning utensils wasn’t enough to make two ends meet. Recalls Laul, “She asked a group of Chhara women thieves if she could go along with them on their next gig. ‘Yes, yes, I’ll do the best I can, whatever you say’, Farzana pleaded. They agreed. She was to play the decoy in their next act.”
Continues Laul, “Farzana was instructed to stand on the vegetable seller’s cart and distract the woman buyer they had zeroed in on, so that the other women could steal the purse. She delivered on her task, and the heist was successful. After the proceeds were divided, Farzana’s share was Rs 75. She was relieved to have made some money.” However, Suresh’s chachi stopped her from doing this, telling her, “Those are the worst sort of people to hand around with.”
The day the riots began February 28, 2002, Suresh, as a key member of mob, participated in violence. He was part of the 46 others who were arrested and sent to Sabarmati jail for the massacre in Naroda Patiya. Comparing his arrest with that of long-time BJP leader Maya Kodnani, MLA from the area, Laul says, she constantly featured in the violence which took place.
Yet, Laul adds, “Suresh was dispensable to the Sangh Parivar, but Maya Kodnani was not. Despite several eye witness accounts, Maya was not arrested until five years later. In that time, she had contested and won another election on a BJP ticket, and was even made minister for Women and Child Welfare. If Mayaben wasn’t going to be arrested, then others in the mob would have to be held to account.”
This, according to Laul, was also a new beginning of ordeal for Farzana. “With Suresh in jail, Farzana felt the gullies of Chharanagar closing in on her. She was not just Farzana, she was ‘that Musalmaan’. The word curled around the tongues of Suresh’s family. It was calculated to impress upon Farzana her place in the world, so she would crawl with fear, lurk in quiet corners and keep her head down.”
Out of bail soon, a sting operation in 2007, published in “Tehelka” magazine, forced Suresh to return to jail. During the sting, speaking of rapes during the 2002 riots, he told journalist Ashish Khetan, who posed as a VHP man, “When thousands of hungry men go in, they will eat some fruit or the other… In any case the fruit was going to be crushed and thrown away… I also ate… I ate once…. Then I had to go killing again… That scarp dealer’s girl, that juicy plump… I got on top. Then I pulped her… made her into a pickle.”
After the tapes were out, on National Human Rights Commission’s intervention, the Supreme Court ordered fresh probe. Trial began in the court of Jyotsna Yagnik in 2009. For three years, she listened to depositions from both sides. Suresh was one of the accused. Finally, on August 31, 2012, he was handed 31-year jail sentence for murder and rape after an eye witness, Farida, identified him.

Click HERE for the book. A version of this book review was first published in counterview.org

Comments

Uma Sheth said…
This is how misfits in society are born, in this case thanks to the British. The worst thing is that no Indian government thought of removing the label and rehabilitating them. I know of an Ahmedabad NGO who works, and quite successfully, with tribes such as the Chharaas
DA said…
Excellent....I personally feel that steps to bring out the hidden talent of Chharas are not seriously taken by any Govt....They could be good artists....good as Home Guards....interestingly to now that the very first પત્રકાર કોલોની at Vijaynagar, was called jokingly as .....New Chharanagar.....paper thin difference between Journalists and Chharas..
UD said…
Read it . News to me ; but interesting and educating . Very difficult to reform them ; think it's in their DNA . We have a village in Panchmahal ; all choor's. The police has tried many ways but haven't succeeded.
So the boy is in jail ; what's happened to his wife ? This Gang of women theives is also v active in Baroda . Even I've been a victim 😃😀.
Unknown said…
It is a pity that no govt has ever tried to understand their pathetic socio- economic state which leaves them to fend for themselves to turn into petty criminals who can turn violent and pitiless at times of political hate crimes. The leaders go scotfree while they bear the burden of their own crime and the crimes of those who incite and use them
Sagar Rabari said…
Individual character is well written but the message to learn is, how calculatedly and deep roots of hate are planted by hate mongers. None worked seriously for the marginalised or say, criminaly ignored communities.
Still there is lot to do to avoid repetition.

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